Friday, April 3, 2020

Half Empty, Half Full

                                                     Half Empty, Half Full
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a husband and wife lived in a modest cottage at the edge of a small village. They had a donkey to pull a cart, a cow for milk and chickens for eggs. When they needed water, the husband hitched the donkey to the cart to draw water from the spring that supplied the village— one large jug for cooking and washing, a huge barrel for the animals to drink and to irrigate the garden.
            One afternoon, as the husband finished his lunch, his wife said, “My dear, the water barrel is half empty. I’m afraid you will need to go to the village well and get more.”       
The man trudged to the water barrel and looked in. “The barrel is half full,” he said. “I don’t know what you were seeing.”
With that, his wife became angry. She marched to the water barrel and thrust her arm into the empty space at the top. “There is no water here! Half empty!”
Her husband, who had much longer arms than his wife, reached into the barrel and splashed water. “Half full!”
The argument continued into the night and the following day. “I am right and I can prove it,” the woman shouted. She walked to the village and asked the first twenty people she saw to follow her. She pointed to the barrel. “How much water is in the barrel?”
Some of the people said the barrel was half empty. Others argued it was half full.  Soon the whole town was involved in the fight. People thought the mayor and town council should settle the matter by writing a law declaring whether water barrels should be deemed “half full” or “half empty” when water was at the half-way mark. The mayor and town council couldn’t agree though and they ended up in a shouting match.
Philosophers and mathematicians began to quibble about the meaning of “full” and “empty.” The great philosopher, Teosophigustus, asked whether any water barrel could ever be considered ‘empty’ when the space inside the barrel not occupied by water was occupied by air.  Fellow philosopher Diodibbit, replied, “Well, if that is the case, sir, then everything is always full. But if that is true, there are no halves of anything! And if that is the case, how shall we ever cut a pie?”
People who had been friends for years stopped talking to each other. No one seemed to notice that the village began to look neglected. Life wasn’t as sweet as it had been before they’d started arguing.
On Sunday afternoon, a stranger riding a horse stopped at the small cottage seeking directions. “Ah,” said the husband. “Let me ask you a question.” He took the
stranger to the barrel. Water had not been added , nor had any been taken away. The husband asked, “Half full or half empty?”
The stranger laughed.  “What a silly question!”
“Why silly?” said the wife. “It’s plain to see it’s half empty.”
“And I say half full,” declared the husband.
The stranger continued to laugh. “Your garden is withered and you will have no harvest, but you had enough water to irrigate your garden. Your animals have fled to seek water, but you had sufficient to quench their thirst. You had enough—“ He pointed to the wife. “But you concentrated on what you didn’t have.”
“Ha!” said the husband. “I was right!”
“I didn’t say that,” said the stranger. “Once the garden was watered and the animals taken care of, you would have needed more water, because the barrel would have been empty. She was prudent, looking ahead.”
The husband and wife were confused. “So who was right?”
The stranger shook his head. “Neither was right or wrong. You saw it differently. But arguing about it cost you your harvest and your livestock, not to mention the argument turned your town upside down. In the end, what you called it made no difference. That water was necessary was the only thing that mattered.”

The traveller shook the dust off his feet and pointed his horse in a more peaceful direction.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 7, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Friday, March 27, 2020

Prince Avar's Transformation

                                         Prince Avar’s Transformation
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            Prince Avar was destined to rule the Kingdom of Firth, his coronation was written in the stars. Knowing he would someday be their king, the people of Firth watched him grow. They hoped to see leadership and compassion. They wished for kindness and courage.
Instead, they noticed Avar was fierce and, when he didn’t get his own way, ruthless.  He liked power, but his heart was not tempered with love. He didn’t feel joy. Like most tyrants, he never laughed. The citizens of Firth bemoaned the day when Avar would become king.
Deep in the woods in a lonely part of the Kingdom, a wise old woman sat at a primitive table and observed Avar in her crystal ball. She knew it was best not to meddle in the affairs of humans and usually, she refrained. Still, Avar’s behavior pained her and she saw terrible destruction ahead if he became king.
The woman had the power to move rivers and crumble mountains, but there was one thing she couldn’t do. She was unable to change a human’s heart— only Avar could change that. Since she couldn’t cast a spell and change Avar into a different kind of person, she did what was within her power. She turned him into a lion.

The lion was fierce as Avar had been and people ran from him. For twenty years, the lion wandered, King of the countryside. He hunted and roared, proving himself the most powerful of beasts.
But, as Avar began his 21st year as a lion, he found himself circling the city more often, trying to glance in people’s windows to see what they were doing. He began to remember stories his father told him and wished he’d paid more attention. He listened for music and people’s laughter. He didn’t understand laughter. Lions roared and growled. Lions coughed and sneezed. Never did they laugh.
All this time, the old woman had watched the lion in her crystal ball. She smiled when she saw Avar sitting at the edge of the city watching people. “It’s time,” she thought.

The following day, as the lion wandered through the forest, he came upon the woman. He roared, but the woman was unafraid. “You’re wondering what it will take to become human again, aren’t you?
Avar nodded. It had crossed his mind more than once.
“Already your heart is changing,” she said.  “You yearn for laughter and companionship. You’re thinking about other people, not yourself.”
“How will it happen?” he asked.
“Sudden as a streak of lightening,” she said. “I don’t know when, but I suspect it will be soon.
Instead of trying to pounce on the crows in the field the next day, the lion watched them. He noticed their dark feathers gleaming in the sunlight and how one cawed loudly and called the others to eat.
From a distance, he watched a man lift his old dog into a cart and pat its head gently.
Avar began to notice more and more: three children, sharing a bag of candy. A flower blooming between the cracks of a rock. A horse licking its newborn foal. An old shepherd leaning against a tree, face to the sun.
The lion felt fluttering in his chest he’d never before felt.
He continued observing, aware that in all his years, he’d noticed so little. His heart started to fill with love for all he saw around him.
One day, as he lay in the sun, a fly landed on his tail. He tried to swat it, but could not reach the tip of his tail. He stood. Round and round he went, chasing his tail, trying to catch the fly. Faster and faster he spun until he was dizzy. All of a sudden, he rolled down a hill.
Avar closed his eyes and started to laugh. He laughed and laughed and, as he laughed, his heart pounded harder and harder. All of his fierceness fell away and when he opened his eyes, he was transformed back into a man. His heart was new and worthy of a King who would lead his Kingdom with compassion.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published November 12, 2017, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Prem and His Wondrous Melons

Prem and His Wondrous Melons
                By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a young farmer, Prem, lived at the edge of a small village. He was a cheerful man, and well liked by the townspeople.
Prem loved the earth and all its creatures. He talked to seeds as he planted them and sang to the earth as he walked on it. When he planted grain, he always planted a share for the birds. He was grateful for the sun and the rain and particularly thankful for a little patch of earth on a hillside that was perfect for growing melons.
            “Oh, what a beautiful vine you will grow to be,” he said as he planted each seed. “The fruit growing on your vine will be sweet and plentiful. I am so happy to help you grow.”
            As the vines grew, Prem tended them with great care.  He loosened the hard soil around them and fertilized them.  When weeks went by without rain, he hauled barrels of water from the river with his horse cart and watered each plant. Not one weed slipped past his sharp eye.
 When the vines flowered and the melons began to form, he talked to each one.  “How sweet you will be!” he murmured.  “Oh, what a beauty you are!”
As the melons ripened in the summer sun, Prem took them to the village market and sold them. They were fragrant and promised to be delicious. He quickly sold them all.

Those who were fortunate enough to have bought one of Prem’s melons could speak of nothing else that week. They could not describe the marvelous taste with simple words, only with comparisons. “Rainbow-flavored,” one person said.  “Spiced with the light of the morning star,” said another.
 The following week, Prem found a line of people waiting for him when he arrived with his wagon of melons. Once again, he quickly sold them all.
Word of his incredible melons continued to spread. Soon, the King heard about them. He was a greedy man and decided if the melons were so delicious, he would have all of them for himself. He sent a letter to Prem telling him he would buy every melon Prem had.
Most farmers would be happy to sell their whole crop so easily, but Prem wasn’t that kind of man. He thought of the children who would delight at a sweet bite of melon and the old women who said even a small taste made them remember long ago summers. He thought of the families carrying one of his ripe melons on a picnic and anticipating its flavor as it was sliced. If the King bought them all, no one else would have any. He didn’t want to sell all of the melons to the King.
 That night, by the light of the moon, Prem worked until each melon bore the name of a person in the town, his knife delicately piercing the skin to write the name, but not so much to cut into the sweet flesh. On and on he wrote, until dawn came. The skin would scar as the melons continued to ripen, leaving the name.
In the morning, Prem was tired, but not so tired that he didn’t go to town and spread the word about what he had done. Each of the townspeople happily paid Prem for the melon ripening in his field with his or her name. Then, Prem wrote to the King. “Dearest King,” he said. “I am afraid I do not own any melons to sell you. Each of the people on the attached list owns one melon. Perhaps you will find someone willing to sell you theirs.”
            The King immediately sent a messenger with a bag of gold to buy whatever melons he could. A few people sold theirs to the King, which was to be expected, but when their neighbors talked about the flavor of the melons from that extraordinary crop for so many years and so often it became legend, they wondered if they hadn’t missed something very special.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME) May 21, 2017.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Alexi, The Dog and The Mule

​                   Alexi, The Dog and The Mule
                                      By Valerie L. Egar
            A long time ago, a boy named Alexi walked to the village market to sell two bags of wheat. His family was so poor they didn’t own a horse and cart to haul the wheat. He strapped the bags on his back and his knees buckled under the burden.
            “Get the best price you can,” his mother said. “Buy three laying hens with the money and we will have eggs to feed the family and not be hungry.”
            On his way to the market, Alexi met a man dragging a large dog tied to a rope. The dog was thin and grey around its muzzle. Alexi noticed the man’s cruel eyes and how the dog shied away from him.
            “Boy,” the stranger said, “Let me lighten your burden by trading this fine dog for whatever you are carrying on your back.”
            Alexi stopped. The dog looked at him hopefully and Alexi’s heart was touched. He remembered what his mother had told him. They needed laying hens, but perhaps not three. He would eat less, so they could get by with two. “One bag for the dog,” he said.
            The stranger agreed and was soon on his way with a bag of wheat. The dog pranced happily next to Alexi.
           Soon Alexi came upon a woman driving a cart hitched 

to an old mule. She whipped the mule to go faster, but the mule stumbled.  She looked at Alexi. “Boy, today’s your lucky day.  I will give you this fine mule and the cart for what you’re carrying on your back. You and that dog will ride like kings.”
            Alexi saw the mule was old and lame. The cart was little better than a plank with wobbly wheels, but Alexi felt sorry for the abused mule. He cut the bag of wheat from his back and handed it over.
Surely his mother would be angry. He had nothing to bring his family except a thin dog, a lame mule, and a rickety cart.  Alexi decided to spend the night in the woods to think about what he should do. He made a camp near a stream and gathered grass for the mule to eat. He shared his thin slice of bread and cheese with the dog.  Alexi lay on the cart, wishing the dog or mule would have magical powers like the animals in fairy tales. In those stories, animals always discovered treasures or gave good advice and the person who helped them was richly rewarded. Alexi sighed and patted the dog snuggled next to him. “It’s OK, boy,” he said. “Saving both of you from harm is reward enough.”
            In the middle of the night, Alexi woke with a start. He heard voices. “Stop cryin’ if you know what’s good for you.”  By the light of the moon, Alexi saw two men with a young boy.
            “Ha,” said the other. “ The King will pay a good ransom for you!”  The scoundrels had kidnapped the Prince! Alexi tried to think what to do.
           His dog howled, a mournful howl that sounded like a ghost.
            The men stopped. “What was that?”
            The mule brayed, and sounded like a host of demons.

           “These woods are haunted!”
            The frightened men looked around and the dog ran to one and bit him hard on the leg. The mule galloped to the other and kicked him so hard he fell over.  Alexi grabbed his rope and tied the two scoundrels up. He threw them on the cart and rode them into town with the frightened Prince sitting on his lap.
            When the King and Queen asked Alexi what he wanted, he asked for three good laying hens. They laughed and  gave the dog, mule and Alexi gold medals for bravery.  Alexi received rich farmland, a house large enough for his family and gold to keep them comfortable for many years.
Alexi continued to rescue animals that had hard lives. He never expected them to have magical powers or speak to him, even when the moon was full. That he made their lives easier with his kindness was reward enough for him.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 1, 2017 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)